Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broke fundraising records for her prospective recall later this year, prompting GOP strategists to urge activists to ease off the recall efforts.
On Monday, the Democrat’s reelection campaign reported an $8.6 million fundraising haul from Jan. 1 to July 20, eclipsing the amount any gubernatorial candidate has raised during an off-year, according to multiple outlets. Although the amount an individual donor could give would normally be capped at $7,150 per person, Whitmer was able to circumvent that limit via a 1984 ruling that carved out an exception for recall elections, leading Republican strategists to question the entire strategy of attempting to force a recall.
“All of these grassroots conservatives who want to get rid of Whitmer need to get with the program that they’re currently making it harder, not easier,” Fred Wszolek, a Republican strategist who works as a campaign adviser for GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, told Bridge Michigan.
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Whitmer’s team figured out the “rules of the game … and they clearly are running with it,” said political consultant John Sellek, who worked on GOP nominee Bill Schuette’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
“Was that tripped off by a few random activists in the [Republican Party]? Yeah, it sure was. Is that backfiring on the party as a whole? Yes, it definitely is,” he continued.
Whitmer called for campaign finance reform but said her recent actions comply with state law as it stands.
“I think you know we need, we need reform when it comes to political contributions,” she said at a press conference Tuesday. “But so long as the rules are what they are, I’m going to make sure that I always abide by the rules but that I am gonna run hard, just like I do everything. When I set my mind to something, we’re going to see it through.”
A handful of recall petitions have been filed against Whitmer, but they have not yet earned enough signatures to force a vote. However, in May, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the state’s Board of State Canvassers “correctly” approved the six recall petitions against Whitmer and one against Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, allowing the recall efforts to proceed.
Last Wednesday, the GOP-led state Legislature voted to strip the governor of the emergency powers she used to implement strict COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic raged in Michigan.
Whitmer faced controversy after it was reported that multiple aides traveled out of state in May despite guidelines issued in April warning would-be travelers that “travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19.” In addition, the governor attracted scrutiny when she was photographed at the Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing on May 22 alongside several others who were not wearing masks with their tables pushed close together, an arrangement that violated the May 15 order from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services mandating all parties be separated by 6 feet, which was in effect at the time.
Whitmer apologized, saying she “made a mistake,” and the bar was not cited.
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Other Democratic governors facing recall efforts have similarly invoked state laws regarding recalls to raise more cash than would be allowed under normal campaign circumstances. Gov. Gavin Newsom raised millions from deep-pocket donors because his recall fight, set for Sept. 13, is considered a ballot initiative rather than an election governed by California campaign finance laws.
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